A friend wrote to Rick and I recently. He was frustrated by the skepticism of Christianity and the church he had been encountering. He wrote: “…how do we respond to such disbelief… how do we get others to see that all the injustices, prejudices, greed, immoralities, un-loving, un-caring, insensitivity, etc….are not representative of the true church, that they are not teaching God’s word…? “I see, hear, and feel so much hatred….and I don’t yet know how to help them understand or believe..”
First: I am proud of my friend for asking these questions and more importantly, HOW he asked them. Notice that he phrased the questions: “how do I respond…” and ” how do I help…” He’s examining his responses, his attitudes and activities first. (Matthew 7:3)
Second: given our current Real Simple series, I’m reminded that answers to these kinds of questions are found in simplicity; not in new programs, another book, a conference, an evangelical campaign or even a ground breaking, scintillating life altering and mind blowing sermon series at AC3 (ahem).
There is more than one answer to my friend’s question but the simplest one is this: we must be open minded and authentic. You may ask, “Well that’s very nice and polite and everything…but it hardly rises to the level of STRATEGY does it?”
Yes it does.
We must never forget that most of the objections our non-believing friends hold are not based on an unbiased, open exploration of the Christian faith. G.K Chesterton summed it up this way, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” Most of their objections come from subjective, negative personal experiences and learned, cultural bias:
“Christians are judgmental, homophobes!”
“Church people are hypocrites. They say one thing and do another..”
“My friend went to that church once. They were only interested in getting her money.”
“Everyone knows the Bible is just a patchwork of made-up stories and ancient fairy tales.”
Therefore, if we think SIMPLY, we instantly realize that our response must in its quality, stand in contrast to our skeptical friend’s biased, sometimes highly defensive objections. We must remember that in most cases, our friend’s objections are based on very real, very negative, but subjective experiences usually with church people, or on second hand information. So, isn’t the simple, elegant solution to NOT be the people who contributed to our friend’s objection in the first place? To take the “high road” of love, welcome and honest inquiry that Jesus actually commands and modeled?
How do we help matters by mimicking the skeptics attitude of contempt, judgment and mockery?
We must be open. Vulnerable. Non-defensive. Honest. We must judge rightly (John 7:24) and we must not be concerned with maintaining our safety, our own reputation, our rights or the idea of BEING right. There is a difference between standing up for the Truth, and standing up for being right.
Our commitment to this kind of lifestyle is often the ONLY means of keeping a dialogue open with a skeptical world, and I would argue, always the starting point of any meaningful dialogue.
We must remember that everyone feels they have justification for what they do and what they believe. Everyone. The guy who cuts in line in front of you has a really good reason for it. Ask him! North Korean leaders feel no less justified in their actions than South Korean leaders. Hitler was just trying to save the world, after all.
But the Atheist/Materialist must justify himself because he is completely alone in the universe with no possibility of justification from outside. All thoughts, ideas, choices and behaviors emanate exclusively from his own biology and are therefore subject exclusively to his will.
Likewise, the Muslim, the Jew, the Moralist, the Hindu must perform in order to justify themselves. “Do the right thing…obey the RULES” is the means to justification.
The Pagan is justified only relative to his embrace of his environment; “You are justified only when your actions are aligned with nature…” again and act of self-will.
For some modern Satanists, Spiritualists and Occultists, it’s explicitly stated in the central tenant, “Do what thy will…(sometimes with the addition) ..and harm none.”
But the follower of Christ is different in that her source of justification lies outside herself altogether.(Romans 3:21-31)
This awareness should make us the most calm, peaceful, respectful, open and welcoming people in human experience.
“…If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:31-39
I have had success in letting go of self justification in some areas. For example, I spend a lot less time trying to prove (justify) that I am worthy of love and attention. However, I still struggle with self-justification in the areas of work (making this decision or that one, heading in this or that direction) and in defending the faith overall.
Sometime ago, I embraced a kind of self-diagnostic with this. The extent to which I get worried, defensive, insecure, combative, argumentative, etc. is DIRECTLY proportional to the extent I am self-justifying something.
I am more convinced than ever that the SIMPLE awareness that I am not responsible for my own justification is “seeker sensitivity”. Acquiring and sharing truth, extending compassion and offering hospitality flow from that awareness, and people notice it. Even skeptics.
I trust that God will continue to be faithful and that as I learn to let go of my own justification, I will, as always, find that in His love and in His power He was right there all along, providing the real thing.
It really just comes down to this, Brothers and Sisters: If we really believe in this Jesus…we would behave differently with people who believe differently.
Let us meet skepticism and even hostility with a Real Simple approach: Confident love.